Saturday, May 14, 2011

It Couldn't Happen Here, Could It? A Tale of American Nuclear Power

Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant (NRC image)
Fires in nuclear power plants happen. And they can set off a chain-reaction of nasty events. Compared to saving money and hassle for plant operators, the NRC thinks those nasty events, including meltdown,  evacuation of surrounding communities, and air and groundwater contamination with radioactive isotopes is not such a big deal. So, we tango with the devil so that plant operators can keep their profits and their control of electricity infrastructure, and finance the campaigns of politicians' who support them.

All the while, instead of investing in the wildly overpriced, toxic security risks that nuclear power plants are, we could invest in cheaper, safe alternatives, that have the added benefit of creating long term domestic jobs: Renewables vs Nukes: Intermittency & Reliability

Here's a bit from a recent ProPublica story on the NRC and nuclear power plant fire regulations:
For the first quarter century of U.S. nuclear power, fire wasn't much of an issue. The Browns Ferry blaze forced a paradigm shift.
It began with a tiny flame.
On March 22, 1975, a worker using a candle to hunt for air leaks accidentally set fire to insulation near electrical cables underneath the Browns Ferry control room, which two reactors shared. The plastic foam material flared, and before the flames could be smothered they were sucked along cables into the adjacent reactor building.
The fire seared through trays carrying hundreds of cables, triggering a cascade of shorts and creating havoc in the control room. Indicator lights flicked on and off at random; pumps started on their own and then restarted after being shut down. Smoke poured from a cabinet that controlled emergency cooling, and key pumps on the Unit 1 reactor were lost. Operators "scrammed" the reactor, an emergency shut down.
Loss of cooling is a serious event. When a reactor shuts down, the radioactive fuel remains hot enough to melt. With only one small pump operating, water in the Unit 1 reactor boiled off, dropping nearly 13 feet in depth until only 48 inches covered the top of the reactor core. Uncovered, hot fuel reacts with air to create hydrogen -- the gas that ignited and blew buildings apart at Fukushima Daiichi.
Read the whole story, it's worth it (and drop a few coins in the tip cup -- ProPublica is non-profit):  
NRC Waives Enforcement of Fire Rules at Nuclear Plants

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